I want to share with you the craziest thing I did as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. Who knows? It might just have been the best thing I did as well.
When I began my pastoral tenure at Irvine Presbyterian Church in 1991, I immediately faced a tricky decision. My church hosted a two-week-long Vacation Bible School each summer. It was a hit with church families and folks from the community. But VBS presented a problem for our worship services, since it met in the same place where adults gathered on Sunday. The lay leaders in charge of VBS completely changed the look of our sanctuary, filling it with thematic decorations and props. But, every year they had to clean up everything for Sunday worship between the two VBS weeks and then put it back up again. That process took a couple-dozen people at least a dozen hours.
So, when I arrived as the new pastor, our children's director seized her opportunity and asked if they could leave up the VBS decorations. Our worship director was most unhappy with this possibility, since it would distract adults who came to worship on Sunday morning. After listening to both sides, I suggested a compromise. Some decorations would be removed; the large and unwieldy ones could stay. Neither director was happy with me, but that was my decision.
As I attended some of the VBS sessions that year, I was impressed by the exuberance of the children in their worship. How different from our quiet, reverent Sunday morning traditions! I wondered what would happen if, during the next summer, we let VBS worship spill over into Sunday morning. I expected our worship director wouldn't be happy. But maybe the congregation would worship with greater freedom and childlike joy. Plus, we could leave up the VBS décor, which would save our committed leaders lots of time and energy.
That's exactly what we did in 1992. The theme was "The Kingdom of the Sun." Our sanctuary was filled with a castle, a throne room, and various other types of kingdom paraphernalia. We left it all up on Sunday morning. Moreover, we let the VBS band lead worship, with kingdom-oriented songs like "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God" and "King Jesus is All." With the VBS kids taking the lead, soon almost everyone in our sanctuary was clapping and singing with joyful abandon to the King of kings.
Although I braced myself for criticism after the service, it never came. Dozens of mature, faithful members of Irvine Presbyterian told me they loved the service. Many said it was their favorite service of the year. Others encouraged me to do this sort of thing every year. Honestly, I don't remember one word of complaint. Even my worship director acknowledged that what happened was both joyful and God-honoring.
Given the reverential tradition of the church, it might have been crazy to try worshiping in such an "out-there" mode.But there is solid biblical precedent for being an enthusiastic fool for Christ. Moreover, I loved the fact that the children of the church were not just doing some sort of cameo appearance in an otherwise "grown-up" worship service. They were leading the adults with their singing, clapping, and all-around exuberance. In fact, they were helping the very mature adults of the congregation discover, if even for just an hour, how to enter the kingdom of God like children.
In fact, we did continue to let Vacation Bible School provide the theme and music for one Sunday of worship services each summer, even when we the cleanup and setup were no longer an issue. VBS worship is a part of what I would call the craziest thing I did as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian church—but only a small part. The strangest is yet to come. I'll continue the story in my next column for the Pastor's Workshop. Please subscribe by RSS or email to follow along.